Breaking Trail

The Raquette River at Sugar Island Reservoir. Photo: Dale Hobson

This past summer was the first in a long time where I spent a lot of time out in the fresh air, raising a sweat and putting things in shape. I really wanted to reach the river, having been cut off from a direct path for many years. By the time my zigzagging trail was done, it was more like six hundred paces.

Breaking Trail

For weeks I try to reach the river
less than two hundred paces away,
beyond a pasture gone to ruin where
fallen trees crisscrossed an old path.

It’s embarrassing to live so close
but be unable to get there, to have
to walk down to the penstock road
and climb up above Sugar Island Dam.

So, I chop knotweed canes, dig out
roots and rocks, raking and leveling,
sowing with grass. A few feet each day
until I reach a sandstone foundation.

I make an eight-foot hole, piling stone
to the side, digging out below ground
into farm midden: a boot, wires, shards,
an unbroken Whistle bottle from 1926.

I take time, wanting a trail that will last,
wide to avoid ticks, smooth and level. 
Twenty feet beyond the wall, knotweed
finally gives out, ceding me the ground.

Not on through to meadow grass though,
but to a dense cat’s-cradle of dead sumac, 
grape, honeysuckle, burdock and raspberry.
I sit, wipe my brow, and work on a Plan B.

Being late in September, I could call it quits
until spring, do a little more yard work
instead. But the mild sun and cool breeze
mock my hidden agenda to just bunk off.

So I tack north, parallel to the river, sawing,
limbing blowdown as I go, whacking down
phlox and goldenrod, nipping off grapevine,
clearing trail over to the edge of the pines.

From there the work goes more easily;
it opens out under the trees. Just clearing
deadfall, cutting a few limbs, raking leaves 
and needles, back to the old pasture wall.

The tumbled stone runs across a bluff
that drops steeply to the river. I can see
water, twinkling between second growth.
I widen a gap where the cow gate was.

The old trail ran straight down the bluff,
and I would run straight up it, decades ago.
But I’m short of wind and have old knees, 
so now it’ll have to be three switchbacks.

As dusk falls, I pack up for work tomorrow.
But that glimpse of sunlit water haunts me.
Dreaming that night, I am deep in the forest
breaking new trail into some far, fair country.

This entry was posted in Poetry. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Breaking Trail

  1. Paul Davison says:

    A great poem, and a fantastic picture. Well done sir, well done.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *